Reviews | Rorschach Test

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I have never taken a Rorschach test. Not clinically. I’m guessing neither have most of you, although you’re likely familiar with them. For those who aren’t, Rorschach tests, or inkblot tests, are mirrored, purposely ambiguous, splotches of ink spread across a page. While they most resemble the artwork of a creative toddler, they are instead a form of psychological test. The ambiguousness of the imagery supposedly allows the viewer to see whatever speaks to them and in so doing reveals elements of their subconcious they may not be aware of or might otherwise try to keep hidden.

In the above image, the most common response is to see a bat, or a butterfly, or a moth. But you might see something else entirely. You might see a wicked face laughing at you. You might see a dancer, mid pose. You might see an angel reaching for the sun. There are no wrong answers, only your answer. With your answer telling us more about you than it does about the image.

Hermann Rorschach, the namesake and creator, devised this test in his twenties while working at a psychiatric hospital in a remote part of Switzerland. You might consider that young to develop a psychological test that still has some sporadic use in clinics today, and you’d be right. However, inkblots had been a part of Rorschach’s life since he was a child. He had such a love of making images from inkblots–also known as klecksography–that his school friends called his Klek, or inkblot. It’s no real wonder then that when young Hermann looked out at the field of psychoanalysis what he saw he saw were inkblots.

While still a medical student, Rorschach showed inkblots to schoolchildren and analysed their responses as part of his dissertation. He then travelled, studying further, before settling in Herisau, the location of the psychiatric hospital where he would develop his now famous test. He designed the inkblots himself, his creativity coming from the fact that his father was an artist, with Hermann himself having previously grappled with the decision to move into art or science when leaving his schooling. He experimented with several hundred inkblot tests, differing colour and design, showing them all to the patients at the hospital. Early results were promising. The different responses to the the different blots were consistent among schizophrenics to manic-depressives, who both responded differently to the control group–people not diagnosed with any kind of mental disorder. It didn’t take long for Rorschach to reverse engineer his own findings and start to diagnose psychiatric illnesses and predict personality traits based on answers to the inkblot tests, claiming that he got it wrong less than 25 percent of the time.

After studying three hundred mental patients and one hundred controls Rorschach wrote the book that would eventually make him famous, Pschodiagnostik. In it he showed ten inkblots, carefully chosen for their diagnostic value. The first of which you’ve now seen. The book did not do well, attracting little attention from the people of the time and was described as “a densely written piece couched in dry, scientific terminology”. Those looking at his work didn’t see much of anything at all it turned out.

Rorschach would die unexpectedly a year later, due to a ruptured appendix.

It wouldn’t be until six years after that that his work would finally be published to some acclaim, after being purchased by the then newly founded Hans Huber publishing house, who still publish the Rorschach test to this day.

Since then it has been used millions and millions of times. For murder trials and custody battles, psychiatric diagnoses and university admissions and job applications. People’s lives have changed for better or worse, spun on a dime into a whole new direction, because of what they saw in a blot of ink.

I find the Rorschach test exceedingly interesting, if not overly scientific. I think the results are valid and illuminating and worth analysing, they’re just not as precise as other scientific methods, like say a blood test. But then I also don’t think that anything that tries to grasp the complexities of the human mind could be.

I wonder also what the difference a day makes when completing a Rorschach test. If I were to complete one on a day when everything had gone right would I see something different, and more positive, than on a day when everything had gone wrong?

While researching this topic I saw a comic that showed two people from different eras giving an answer to the same inkblot test. One, from our decade, saw a tree, while another from the 1960’s–when nuclear war was an occasional threat–saw a mushroom cloud. Meaning what we see is as much about the time we live in as it is about our subconscious. That the time period we live in forms who we are and how we think. If Hermann Rorschach had been born in a today’s era, apart from likely surviving his ruptured appendix, his patients might very well have seen smartphones or thumbs up emojis swimming inside his inkblots.

Which brings me to an example of a modern Rorschach test. The internet. I saw a post on twitter the other day–a joke, not a particularly funny one, but a joke nonetheless–and the comments that followed covered the entire emotional spectrum. Some people thought it was hilarious, others banal, and yet others still that it was the highest form of insult imaginable. Who was right? They all were. They all saw something different. They each read it in an entirely different way. And, I think, as with a traditional Rorschach test, the way in which they read it said more about them than it did about the original post.

The truth is everything is a Rorschach test, because every reaction and response we have to a stimulus, whatever it may be, tells us something about ourselves. Inkblots and the internet are perhaps just a less subtle form, one where we lower our efforts to mask the inner gremlin controlling us, and let out it to describe our innermost horrors. Except that’s not really how it works is it? What’s hidden away behind the veil of our subconscious may just be apathy, or a fear of rejection. It might be a concern over being forgotten, or dread at the possibility of failure. All these little insecurities inside of us, subtly controlling our actions and responses. Insecurities that we want to keep hidden away, unless it’s from behind the anonymous safety of a computer screen, of the unconscious reveal of a Rorschach test. But maybe they should be revealed. Maybe they should be uncovered and examined, and better yet, healed.

It was, it turns out, for this reason that Rorschach first designed his test.

Here is a quote taken from a letter Hermann Rorschach wrote to his sister when he was nineteen and had just made the decision to pursue medicine over art.

I never again want to read just books. I want to read people. The most interesting thing in nature is the human soul, and the greatest thing a person can do is heal souls. Sick souls.”

I have never taken a Rorschach test. Maybe I will.

Talk soon

Damian

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Reviews | Painting A Big Red Door

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This is the first in a series of reviews. As I described in my last post, these reviews won’t be overly review-y. Instead I’ll be using “review” as a loosely fitting descriptor to allow me to talk about a thing. Let’s see if it works.

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In another life I was a painter. The life in question was this one, just thirteen years ago, but as our cells are constantly dying and regenerating (excepting our neurons) let’s call it another life, as that person was mostly another me. This painter’s life began after I finished high school and, as I really had no idea what to do next, had decided to take a gap year (I still wouldn’t know after that year, but we can review the difficulty of choosing a life path at the ignorant age of eighteen another time). I chose to get a job and save some money, failing to realise this endeavour would be difficult as I lived in a country town with limited job opportunities available, and had zero experience; my resume was basically just my name and phone number.

Luckily, a family friend by the name of Angelo–think an italian Michael Scott with a Mario mustache–knew I was looking for work and had decided to take me on. I say decided because that’s how it felt, like he had made the decision and so now I was his apprentice, whether I wanted to be or not. He was aggressive in his kindness, and I’m glad he was.

Angelo worked as a handyman, with two other people working under him; one a carpenter, one a plumber, but all of them completing a variety of tasks. A lot of the work he picked up usually entailed painting at some stage or other, and so that was the skill Angelo decided to train me in. It also just happened to be the skill that fit my personality perfectly.

Painting is not for everybody. I’ve had different people tell me they loathe it for a number of reasons. Some have said it takes too long, others that it’s boring, or too messy, and one person told me the smell of paint makes them nauseous. I love it. Painting requires patience and time. It demands a focus, a concentration of attention so that the coloured liquid you’re pushing around only goes where you want it to go, and not where gravity would prefer to take it. Because of this focus I find it meditative. Often when I paint it’s just me, and it’s quiet, or I have some music softly playing, and I have one job to do, which is to slowly and carefully move the brush or roller around the room until the whole thing is coated with a fresh start. At the end of it I get the very visual satisfaction of a job completed, the clear mind of a focused worker, and the warm and worn muscles that come with physical work.

Fast forward a few years and I am no longer a painter. I miss it, but have other things in my life now, such as writing and a wife. However, every once in awhile someone I know needs some painting done, at which point I often raise an eager hand.

Enter, the big red door. Or rather, the big grey door that I would then turn red.

I occasionally do some work for a writing studio run by a friend of mine, and so when he put the call out for a working bee for the studio I replied that I would dust off my painting gear and bring it along. The studio exists in an old heritage building in the heart of Fitzroy, and stands tall, with thick wooden doors, years old. The doors were the only part of the studio that required a fresh coat. The coat in question would be a warm red one, as the studio has recently rebranded and this particular shade of red was their primary colour. The rest of the building is a mix grey and white and so I knew the red would look outstanding with them as a backdrop. First though was the question of prep work.

Like any job done well, painting requires a healthy amount of prep work before the fun part, the painting, can begin. Cracks need to be filled, imperfections sanded away, and flaking paint removed. These doors had a lot of flaking paint. The previous owners of the building had given it a facelift before passing it along, including a fresh coat of white on the insides of the doors. They had also unfortunately used an acrylic paint over the top of an enamel one, hence all the flaking. Acrylic doesn’t stick well to enamel, and so using just a fingernail I was able to strip a line of the white from its underlying base. That’s not meant to happen. It would all need to go. I got to work with a scraper and sander and soon sheets, chips, and chalky dust flakes of dry white paint were raining down upon me. I would say it was like snow but I’ve never really seen snow fall, living in Australia as I do, so instead I’ll say it was like a big cloud of dandruff drifting down from the head of some dry scalped giant. So not overly pleasant.

It takes a while to remove a whole coat of paint from a surface, especially one that has panels and trowels like these doors did, but eventually I got the majority of it off, cleaned up as much of it as I could–the wind keen to make the job as hard as possible–and then, finally, I was ready to begin.

As always the process forced a focus that stilled my mind and narrowed my world down to a brush, a bucket, and the surface I’m painting. The first coat is always a little patchy, especially with such a rich colour like the red coating the underlying lighter grey, but it didn’t take long before you could see the new door emerging from the old. Passerbys eyed the doors, often offering positives opinions about it, my favourite of which was when one man described them as “inspirational”. I liked that. I liked that a solo act of improvement could have further reaching influence. That when we do something positive its effect could ripple outwards causing change and motivations we might never know about. While it might be weird that a man would describe a set of doors an inspirational, it was a description I could get behind.

The second coat went on and with it the new door presented itself in all its glory, a small point of colour in a street full of concrete greys and bitumen black.

The idea that these big now-red doors could be inspirational stuck in my mind, and so, when a week later, I was leading a writing night at the very same studio, I decide to use those doors as the inspiration for a small writing challenge. I asked the writers there to write a quick piece that featured the doors in any way they liked, ensuring only that it would be engaging and leave me wanting to read more.

The results were excellent and varied. One was haunting and dark, another used the doors to lead us into the realms of fantasy, another still placed them in a nearby suburb in a story that felt rich and real. Another story made us laugh out loud, its protagonist the doors themselves, and another rhymed with silly fun. Five new stories, out in the world. Off to create ripples of their own.

All of them now existing due to the painting of a big red door.

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Talk soon

Damian

January 18, 2019 | Reviews

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With the grand adventures of last years travels and my recent wedding sitting comfortably in the pleasant recesses of my memory/the past/the pages of this website, I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to write about on the blog. Because, while this is ostensibly a journal, the truth is, minus a few exceptions here and there, my life is not that interesting. The big events of a three month trip across Europe and my wedding day are excellent fodder to keep a journal engaging, but I doubt I’ll get married again and I can not afford to consistently travel. Of course, the truth is, all life is interesting if looked at in the right way. But, while I could write about my day to day, and it might be interesting for a while, it would then get repetitive. Really repetitive. I am way too fond of a routine.

Instead I’ve come up with the idea to do reviews. About anything. A concept, an emotion, an object, a moment. Just something that’s crossed my path, worked its way into my head, and given me something to think about. I’ve also just lied to you, because the truth is that the idea is not really mine. I’m not so subtly ripping it off of John Green, the writer and you-tuber, who also has a podcast entitled The Anthropocene Reviewed. The podcast, which I highly recommend, is pretty much the idea I’ve just told you; although about more tangible things, specifically from within the Anthropocene time period, and intertwined with all the wonderful facts and research John Green is known for. It’s so good I wanted more of it, and so decided to emulate it in my own special way.

The reviews I’ll do doing will not be particularly helpful, by and large, but more a public way for me to figure out how I feel about a thing. I will not be giving a rating in my reviews, there will be no thumbs up or thumbs down, rather I’ll just be listing the pros and cons of any given thing, my thoughts about them, and any personal affiliations or connections I have with the subject being reviewed.

In other words I’ll be making it up as I go along.

But I think it’s a good format for me to write weekly in a way that will let me cover a range of different topics and avoid me repeating “this week I worked, did some writing, and went for a run”

Failing that, Holly and I will just have to get married again.

First one to come next Friday.

Talk soon

Damian

January 11, 2019

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On day two of this new year I was back at work and feeling pretty blue about it. I work three days per week from an atypical office I share with three other people. It is located in a pocket of Melbourne, just outside the CDB, populated with offices, apartment buildings, a couple of hospitals, and of course the university I work for. However it does also have some greenery, Melbourne’s good like that. There’s a rather large park down one of the major roads, perhaps two kilometers away, and a few smaller ones in opposite directions. And then there are the areas I think of as micro parks. Small patches of grass, wedged between dissecting back streets, hidden away behind the multistory behemoths. These tiny slices of land are mini oasis’s from the surrounding sea of traffic and enterprise, and it’s from one of these parks that I’m writing this now, its greenery making me feel less blue. Given the peace of this micro park it seemed like a good place to share some thoughts as we roll into the new year.  So let’s dig in.

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I use to look down upon new year’s resolutions, and new years as a celebration in general. It seemed arbitrary to my not-so-long-ago younger self. The parties never felt as fun as they should, resolutions can be made any day of the year, and it’s so close to Christmas; and you’re never going to be able to compete against Christmas when it comes to good ways to end off a year.

Now, I like New Years more. There are a number of reasons for this, but mostly it comes down to a matter of perspective.

I realised the mode of celebration was under my influence, and that I craved something more subdued and relaxed than an all out party, as that felt like a better was to step into a new year. This year, for example, started off great. I started it married. I started it on a beach with family watching illegal fireworks explode above us as the waves crashed gently against the shore. I started it with my wife sitting in front of me and a chest sore from laughing. We drank some spirits from the bottle, jokes flying between the five of us, played some good/bad music off of Holly’s phone, lay down on a too small blanket, looked up at the endless array of stars, and sang. While I did find sand in my hair the next morning it still seemed like if the rest of the year was an extension of that night, then 2019 would be just fine.

I also have my resolutions for the year, or goals as my brother Matthew prefers, as goals are changeable and adaptable, able to be altered to match whatever may come. The reason I have started this tradition is that while resolutions can be made any day of the year, while we can stop and evaluate our situations, decide upon changes we’d like to make then action them, we often don’t. New years works as a reminder that I have influence over my life, specifically my actions, and that if I want to make changes the first step is deciding on what they are. Even if I don’t want to make changes, it’s still good to stop and recognise that fact, appreciate the course I’m on and continue down it.

My four goals are much the same as last year, which boil down to Write more, Run more, Read more, and one new one, which is to pick up the guitar again and learn some new songs. All of these goals have definitive targets involved because I’ve found that’s what works best from me. They also have spreadsheets to track these targets because, again, that’s what works best for me. They’re also all goals I have control over. There’s no point me setting a goal like ‘get a story published’ because ultimately I can’t ensure that happens. I can write a story, find a publication to submit it to, and do the best job I can with the application, but that doesn’t mean I have any control over whether it gets published or not. Now, if my goal was to submit one story per week to a publication, then we have a tangible and achievable goal I have control over.

As for competing New Years against Christmas, then, yeah, no, New Years isn’t going to take that crown, at least not for me. But it’s not supposed to, they’re two different beasts, each with their own positives, and personally I’ve come to enjoy the contemplative aspect that New Years provides.

Whatever shape 2019 ends up taking I know I’m grateful to be living it, and hope that throughout the year I continue to look at the stars, laugh until my chest hurts, and sing bad songs. And, occasionally, find a quiet micro park to sit in, escape the world for a moment, and write down some words, much like these.

Talk soon,

Damian

January 4, 2019

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I have a new habit. When I’m bored, or thinking, or my fingers just need something to do, I turn a ring that sits at the base of my index finger around and around. The habit is new because the ring is new. It was given to me on the fifteenth of December in a stunning park near my house by a woman who I love while a hundred of our nearest and dearest watched.

In other words, I got married.

It was the cap on not only an amazingly big year, but an amazingly enriching and life-altering dating relationship. The day itself was beyond my imagining. I’ve never been one to believe that your wedding day is the happiest day of your life, that always seemed a little bleak to me. What about all the other days? All the ones where you fell a little more in love? All the ones that made the wedding day happen? And what about all the ones that come after? The ones where you grow old with that person beside you?

But saying all that, our wedding day was up there as one of the most joyous I have lived. There have been other days that have been as good, but few that were filled with so much love. And the thing that surprised me was that it wasn’t just mine and Holly’s love, it was all of it. It was my love of the people in the room, and their overwhelming love washing back. It was the community that had grown and surrounded us our whole relationship all in one room, all celebrating. It was my parents in the front row tearing up as we spoke our vows. It was my sister’s exuberant face, the effort and time she put into making us a beautiful mountain of a cake. It was my brothers, both those of blood and those bonded through friendship, as they stood beside me. It was the bridesmaids on the other side, women I had come to know and love, and who are my sisters whether they know it or not. It was the earnest congratulations from my aunties and uncles, the gleam in their eyes as they wished us so many good things. My three year old nephew on the dance floor, fists clenched, belting out every word of Ed Sheeran’s Castle on the Hill, while a crowd of adults gathered around him, cheering him on. It was the feel of Holly’s hands in mine as the celebrant said the words that would make us husband and wife. It was the awkward feeling of eyes as we swayed our way through our first dance. The cheer that went up as we were introduced as husband and wife. My Dad’s speech, thoughtful and honest. My new sister, Kerry, bringing tears to the eyes of many in the room. The uncontrollable laughs as my brother Jonathan delivered his words with the deadpan skill of a seasoned stand up comedian. The dancing, the singing, the songs from our youth that were so bad they’ve now become good. The group circle as we collectively sang the classics, all self-consciousness lost with the aid of love, comfort, and alcohol. The laughter as my wife and I skipped arm in arm with our bridal party through a public park. The overly squeezy hugs from my new sister-in-law as she said through joyfully gritted teeth ‘I love you so much’. My uni mates all huddled together, a mass of friendship as we shouted out the words to Rod Stewart’s Rhythm of my Heart. The dance moves; silly, fun, and over-the-top. It was Holly walking towards me, flowers in hand, smile on her face. The lump in my throat as I think about it even now. The photos, the kisses, the warm words. The moments I took with my new wife to stop and look around the room and just take all of it in.

It was our wedding day.

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To add to this wedding post I thought I’d share my vows with you all. Not only because I’m happy to declare them in front of a global digital audience, but because I’m proud of them, and proud of the woman I was lucky enough to say them to.

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My love, you are such a warm wonderful beacon in my life. You fill my days, my thoughts, and my arms in the best way possible. The most Holly way possible. A way that makes me grateful. A way that makes me centred. A way that adds something special to any given day. 

I love the years we have spent together and the life we have built. I love you. Your inquisitiveness, your quiet strength, your easy company, your cheeks. I love what’s inside your head, and without it. You are my favourite person, and a life with you is the best life I can imagine.

So, I promise to climb mountains with you. Be they metaphorical mountains made up of life’s challenges or your personal goals, or real ones made of dirt and stone. Either way I promise to walk and climb along side you, encourage and support you, joke and mock insult you all the way up and down the other side.

I promise to have fun with you. Be it on a big badass adventure, or a quiet night at home. I promise to watch cartoons, go to parties, sing in cars, read books, have long chats, send you cute animal pictures, aggressively grab your butt, and kiss your face. I promise to do these things on the easy days, and, especially, on the hard ones.

I promise to be your partner. To do extra chores when I know you’re low on time. Help you look for something that you’ve lost. Give you a shoulder massage just because. To listen when you need to talk, have patience when you’re flustered, to use what small influence I have to make your life a little bit easier and a little bit better, and thank you when you do the same for me.

I promise to love you. To respect, appreciate, and value all the things that make you you. To squeeze you overly tight when I’m full to bursting with that love or to whisper it gently in a more restrained and less rib damaging way. To look for all the ways I love you and remind myself just how lucky a man I am.

And I promise to keep updating these promises. To add subsections and amendments and entirely new promises as our lives grow and change. To keep you and them always in my mind and my decisions and my actions.

I promise to choose you, every single day.

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Talk soon

Damian

November 27, 2018

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Slovakia had already stunned us with it’s quiet alpine towns and its challenging mountain trails, but it had more in store for us to enjoy before we’d head back home.

Here’s what happened next.

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We woke early, showered, tidied up, and said goodbye to our glammed up, luxurious, definitely haunted apartment complex and walked down to the train station. Our backpacks, now feeling more like a part of us than not, sat comfortably against our backs, the sun already rising in the bright blue sky. We would miss this place but we were excited to see what came next.

We would be heading first to a city called Poprad, then swap trains onto a village called Vydrník. First though, our train had to arrive on time as our crossover only allowed minutes in between this change.

It did not.

The plan had been that our new hosts would pick us up at Vydrník station at a specific time and then drive us over to the accommodation as it was a little way out from the station. However with our train delayed and our transfer uncertain we had to tell our hosts that we weren’t sure now when we would be arriving and that we’d figure out our own way from the station to the accommodation. With that done the train pulled up. We piled on, found our seats, and settled in for the short trip to Poprad. In Poprad we ran out of the train, hoping against hope that our original train would still be at its platform. Seeing a platform that advertised the same departure time as our train we hoped for the best and ran up the steps to see the train waiting. We asked the conductor if it was heading to Vydrník, it was, so we rushed on board. The train began to move as we fell into our seats. Turns out we would make it at the original time after all…except now we had no ride. We’d figure it out. First though we watched autumn pass by our windows. Yellows and orange and red, and some remaining green filled the view with it’s golden splendor. The train trundled along and I could barely focus on my book due to this gorgeous countryside.

We pulled into Vydrník and the lady Holly and I jumped out to find that, sure enough, our message had been received and no car waited for us. Unfortunately, not much else did either. Not only was Vydrník a speck of a village, it was also centered further afield than the station and in the opposite direction from our own village, Hrabušice. We started walking, following a large two lane road lined with apple trees loaded with fruit, the ground likewise littered with it’s fallen and forgotten bounty. Our backpacks, which had felt so comfortable and familiar that morning began to drag against our shoulders as the dirt crunched beneath our feet. The sun was now well up, warm but not hot. We scanned the hilly landscape, still able to see the mountains we had traversed days earlier on the horizon. It was, all told, a nice walk. We made it into Hrabušice, pointing out the small shops and restaurants we would hopefully visit during our time here, then past towards our accommodation. We rang the doorbell. A young woman greeted us, excited by the prospect of meeting Australians; conveying this excitement in good but limited english while telling us how far we must have come. Her excitement was a joy and soon infected us, overriding our own tiredness. The accommodation was simple compared to the penthouse we had left that morning, but comfortable and welcome.

Hrabušice is located on the outskirts of the Slovak Paradise National Park, our reason for being there. It is also, as we were to learn, small, old-fashioned, and quaint. We walked its entirety within an hour, circling around the outskirts of the town and through it’s housed streets, spotting many cute dogs, and one sheep, in the front yards. While it did have the aforementioned shops and restaurants, they seemed to come from a time in the not so distant past. The first shop we went to was tiny, it’s shelves full of basic stock, all visible from behind a rope. This shop was like those from before my time, where you’d point out to the proprietor your list of items and they would collect and bag them for you. Quaint? Yes. Convenient? Less so. Mostly thanks to the language barrier. Our Slovak was, and unfortunately remains, non-existent, so when the shop lady asked us what we wanted we weren’t one hundred percent sure what she was asking, nor knew how to answer. Luckily, through a lot of pointing and miming, we were able to purchase what we needed and for a remarkably cheap price. The restaurants were pleasantly more english friendly, usually even having english menus, and full of rich, meaty, delicious food, and cold frothy beers. It’s smalltown-ness and isolation was a quiet pleasure, knowing soon that we would be in its opposite, back home in a city where our time and attention would be demanded from many sources. I think of it’s paddocked outskirts and star filled sky now and wish I could go back, just for an instant, and breath in its fresh country air.

While Hrabušice was lovely, the Slovak Paradise National Park was where the real treasure lay. The entrance to the park was located just a few kilometers from where we were staying, so the next morning we packed a lunch and headed out into the foggy air. The road took us past yet more apple trees and paddocks that contained, surprisingly, Highland cows. We had seen these beautiful rust coloured beasts first in Scotland, months ago, and, Holly especially, had fallen in love with them. It was somehow right that we were seeing them now, at the end of our trip, making our adventure seem that it had come full circle. We feed them some of the fallen apples, causing one to follow us for quite a way, before we turned off and headed toward the park.

In summer the park is busy, with an entrance fee and a couple of small streets full of bars and souvenir shops that you must traverse before heading into the wilds. But this was autumn, and so, with visitor numbers drastically lower, the streets were empty, as was the entrance booth. We walked through the deserted area, walked along the tree line, through grass thick and wet with morning dew, and into the park.

One thing you should know about the Slovak Paradise National Park is that it is full of gorges, and while other countries may situate its walks above these ridges in the landscape, Slovakia thought the best views were from inside them. They were not wrong. But, you may be saying, wouldn’t the gorges be full of water from time to time? And you, now, would not be wrong. Which is why these gorges are decked out with wooden bridges, ladders, winding steps built into the rock face, and chains to help you traverse the rocky water way.

It was amazing. It felt like a giant adventure park, like we had been transported inside a Crash Bandicoot game, following a path that required us to step, jump, and climb, to make our way to the finish line. Add to this the ridiculous beauty of the landscape, the incredible autumn colours, and the soft musical rainfall of the falling leaves, and you have one of the greatest days I have ever lived.

I could go into more detail, describing the throbbing wellspring of joy in my chest as we passed through that well named paradise, taking photos at almost every step. Instead I think it’s easier to just show you those photos as they can say more than I ever could.

We spent more days in this idyllic little part of the globe, went on more walks, had more funny little experiences, found more animals to pat. We continued on, through Košice and Budapest, and made our way back to Vienna, and then to Melbourne. Home.

Part of me wants to tell you all about it, in unnecessary, potentially painful, detail, mostly in an attempt to relive the experience. But, I’m learning, that’s just not possible. One, because I am a flawed beast with a not so picture perfect memory, and two, because experiences are only ever once in a lifetime, and can never be repeated. The river of time flows on and we can never walk through it at the same point twice. The closest we can come is this, stories and memories and photos.

Which is plenty.

And the beauty of it all is that once those experiences have been lived, their ours forever. I may go back to my workaday job, get pulled down into routine, look at my phone too much and get stuck in traffic, but the fact that I have done these things and visited those places still remains. I will even die one day, and all those stories and memories and photos will undoubtedly be lost to time, but they still happened. They will always have happened. And that gives me solace, because I will be lost to time one day too, but I will always have existed.

As will these words.

Thanks for reading them.

Talk soon,

Damian

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November 8, 2018

 

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Holly and I have returned home. I am currently sitting on our familiar couch in our unchanged lounge room, eating an apple and writing this post. It is six thirty in the morning before my first day back at work. But rather than talk about that I’d like to talk about Slovakia and the final leg of our trip. A leg filled with incredible natural beauty, increasingly more rest days, and a journey over a mountain.

Let’s begin.

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While most of our travels had been meticulously researched, planned, and booked many months ago by the Lady Holly, the final leg was not. The final leg was going to be spontaneous, we would be spontaneous, we knew we would because we had pencilled it in to our diaries. Because that’s how spontaneity works, you plan it. The original idea was that close to the date we would go on skyscanner, look at the cheapest flights out of Vienna, book one, then leave the next day. Except, as you may have gathered, we’re not all that good at spontaneity and so during our time in Germany we cracked and booked some things. I’m glad we did.

What we booked was a number of trains leaving from Vienna, making their way through Slovakia, before getting a bus down to Budapest in Hungary. From the start we knew we liked Slovakia, mostly because their train network was so incredibly cheap we even decided to bump ourselves up to first class, which cost a dollar or so more. We also booked in our accomodation for this leg, granting ourselves seven days at our first location; the longest time we would have spent anywhere for the last couple of months. It was exciting, mostly because we didn’t really know what to expect. We knew we wanted to see more mountains, and that we wanted to rest more–as our months of being on the move were starting to wear us down–and Slovakia seemed to hit both of those notes; being both mountainous and quieter than some places. But that was it. Beyond that it was a mystery. One that would prove to have many treasures hidden within it.

Our first stop was Štrba, located at the base of the Upper Tatra mountains. Our accomodation wasn’t in Štrba proper, but a smaller village a short distance away called Tatranská Štrba. To call it sleepy would be appropriate; almost deserted, even more so. Our apartment was in a large complex, with views overlooking the Tatras. Across from it was a hotel which featured a “mini zoo”, with animals ranging from peacocks to goats–with nothing in between, as they just had peacocks and goats. Calling it a zoo might be a bit rich but it was a welcome delight nonetheless. The apartment was excessively affordable, well under budget compared to most of our other stays, and yet was the nicest, most lavish, accommodation we’d had the whole trip. It featured an enormous balcony with exceptional views, a very blinged up kitchen, with purple LED lights under the bench and an incredible coffee machine, two bathrooms, one of which had a large bath and mood lighting, and one of the best beds we’d slept in the whole trip. We played it cool as the host showed us around and explained how everything worked, but then broke into giddy giggles as soon as she waved goodbye. We would have seven days here and the place was paradise. And remember how I said the town was almost deserted? Well that went double for our apartment complex. Despite having four levels of apartments, we didn’t see a single soul the whole time we were there. Not once did we pass someone in the hall or share an elevator ride. Never did we catch anyone entering or leaving their apartment or have to hold the door for someone. We did hear noises though, and occasionally voices. Obviously ghosts, which just made us even more excited to stay there. Back to the town for a second, while it may have been deserted it was also gorgeous. Alpine and lush and rich with autumn colours, blue skies filled with sun shone down on us as we walked it’s quiet streets and took in the impressive natural scenery. And overlooking it all was the Tatras. On that first day we looked up at those mountains, keen to cross their craggy peaks.

Day one was rest day/buy groceries day/get all giddy about our killer accomodation day. Day two was our first journey up towards the mountain. We took a cute little train twenty minutes to its base where another tiny town sat, Štrbské Pleso. This town was larger, but again somewhat deserted, we assume due to it being off peak. While the weather was perfect for walking, the locals, we take it, are more interested in their winter sports, which is when the two towns would really fill up. This was a reconnaissance mission for us as we knew the next day we would get up early and return to do an epic sixteen kilometer walk over the mountain. Which brings us to day three.

The alarm went off at five, we packed bags, made a lunch, and were on the tiny train by six am, and back at the base of the mountain and walking by six thirty. The walk started through a fairytale forest, rocks and staircases of twisting roots lined the path, all shadowed by the centuries old trees reaching up around us. If Hansel and Gretel had skipped on through there it would have been little suprise. As we climbed the terrain changed, the forest making way for grasslands. The sun had yet to break the mountain peaks so we walked in shadow as we made our way up. The landscape began sparser still, grassland changing to rock. We saw a small waterfall leading into the stream we had been following and were surprised to see the track led up beside it. Right up in fact, as chains had been installed for us to climb with. We secured our backpacks and made it to the top of the mountain right as the sun broke free to shine down on us. It was perfect. It also wasn’t the top.

From our new platao we could see we still had much further to go. So on we went. We passed blissful pools of water, stark blue against the mountains grey. And on we went. We traversed over a field of rocks, boulders resting against boulders as far as we could see, the yellow markers revealing a path through them like we were adventurers in a video game. And on we went. We headed up, our legs starting to weary as they took high steps up a rocky staircase on the edge of a cliff face. And on we went. We scrambled over another false top–incredibly high now but not quite at the peak–and found an even larger pool, this one partly iced over and as reflective as a mirror. And on we went. We passed onto more rocks, these ones more uneven, the trail curving and hard to keep a track of. And on we went. Into snow, which hid the path even more, climbing more than walking now as we saw what we thought must be the top, but refused to believe the mountain after all its false promises. And on we went, until we got to a peak, a sharp ridge with an insane incline that we would have to climb over. More chains had been installed, and cold and exhilarated and more than a little tired, we pulled our bodies over the mountain.

Then there was the matter of getting down. The other side of the ridge proved just as steep as the side we had just traversed, but now we were going down, with gravity a little too keen to assist us. Falling was a very real risk, not helped by pebbly rubble beneath our feet. All of this combined caused Holly’s vertigo to kick in and panic to flare. She seized up, teared up, and for a moment thought she wouldn’t be able to do it. I knew she could. I know she can beat most mountains. I took her bag, she took some deep breaths, and with me speaking words of encouragement she took a shaky step down. Then another. And another. Until we were past the worst, and, while still far from flat, were on more solid ground. And on we went.

Our legs were past weary, past tired, and into angry and sore by the time we made it down and across to our end point, the top of the chairlift. Here was situated a beer house, because of course there was, this is Europe, and so we sat and drank and rested our legs.

The day, while tiring, had been one of extreme and rewarding experiences. We had climbed over a mountain and seen various shades of its beauty along the way. It was a day worth doing, worth remembering, and worth writing about.

Next time I’ll tell you what we did next.

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Talk soon,

Damian